FOLA has long believed that a sustainable, appropriately and adequately funded legal aid system is critical to the efficient, effective and just functioning of Ontario's justice system.
Ontario has one of the best legal aid systems in the world, but it is far from perfect and FOLA is actively involved in a number of initiatives to make the system better for both low-income clients who use the system and the lawyers who utilize funding from Legal Aid.
Here are some handy links from Legal Aid Ontario (LAO).
FOLA has an active Legal Aid Committee, currently chaired by FOLA executive member Terry Brandon, and is involved with the Alliance for Sustainable Legal Aid (ASLA) which has been the primary vehicle for interested legal organizations to lobby for more funds to service more of the population.
The members of ASLA are:
In the Fall of 2014, the Ontario government's budget announced a substantial three year funding increase to legal aid. This is the first investment in an intended ten year strategy to raise legal aid eligibility and is part of the Ontario government's overall poverty reduction strategy.
Highlights of the investment are:
Legal Aid Deficit
In December 2016, FOLA and other stakeholders learned that Legal Aid Ontario was facing a $26 million deficit as a result of higher than anticipated up-take on the expanded services first introduced in 2015. FOLA responded to this news in which we expressed our concern with this development and with the potential impact it might have to clients and to the certificate-bar system in Ontario.
The Attorney General also commissioned a review of Legal Aid to determine if there were steps to take to avoid the same problems in the future. The results of this review can be found at this link.
Looking forward, FOLA will continue to work with Legal Aid Ontario and other stakeholders to strive for an adequately funded legal aid system that maintains the private bar at the centre of the legal aid system. This means we will continue to work through ASLA and undertake our own advocacy efforts.
The relationship between the Private Bar and Legal Aid Ontario
The relationship between the private bar and Legal Aid Ontario has, over time, been a fractious one, but FOLA has attempted to take constructive steps to improve this relationship and to ensure the avenue of communication is always open between LAO and the bar. At nearly every Plenary meeting, LAO participates in panel discussions; FOLA regularly provides updates on LAO activities to its members; and, if problems arise, FOLA engages with senior executives of LAO to address issues and find solutions.
If members of the private bar encounter specific problems or issues with LAO, they are encouraged to contact Katie Robinette, Executive Director (email@example.com) directly so the issues can be dealt with quickly.
FOLA also strives to invite LAO representatives to its bi-annual plenary meetings as often as possible to facilitate an ongoing dialogue between LAO and the practicing bar.